Women who have their first child after age 35 are generally more emotionally and financially prepared to raise children, but they are relatively more likely to have complications during the pregnancy, physicians say.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that the rate of women having their first child between ages 35-39 generally increased from about 2 per 1,000 in 1970 to about 11 per 1,000 in 2012. The rate of women having children between 40 and 44 also steadily increased.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information attributes the age increase to "the clash between the optimal biological period for women to have children with obtaining additional education and building a career."
Waiting to have children has become more popular in the United States as women take on more professional roles, but there are health risks. Older women are more prone to diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, Dr. Lynn Simpson, an ob/gyn at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, told Parenting.com. She said those adverse health conditions can complicate pregnancy and put the health of the mother and child at risk.
The chance of having a child with a genetic birth defect also increases with age, Dr. Rebecca Starck, chairwoman of the department of regional obstetrics and gynecology at Cleveland Clinic, told Time magazine. However, the possibility of having a risky or complicated pregnancy shouldn't bar women from having their first child at an older age.
“A healthy 40-year-old can have a much less risky pregnancy than a healthy 28-year-old,” said Starck. Maintaining healthy practices such as eating right, exercising and avoiding stress have more of an impact on the outcome of a pregnancy than age.
Genetic testing is an option for women who are worried about the increased risk of birth defects. If the tests prove positive for a genetic problem, advanced preparation and counseling can begin right away.
There are some pluses for those 35 years and older who want to have a child. The mothers are often in a more stable situation for starting a family, and more aware of what they are getting into. They are better prepared for the new challenge ahead of them, according to Parenting.com.
"Many women in these advance maternal age groups will do just great,” Starck said. “While we do watch them more carefully, we don’t want people to fear that they absolutely can’t and shouldn’t get pregnant after age 35. It’s not an absolute risk, it’s a relative risk.”
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.